I have often said here there I am neither and advocate for or against the death penalty. Sure, there are cases that are so brutal and vicious that I believe they do deserve that sentence but I also know that the cost to the taxpayer is much higher for death penalties, as well as the cost to house a death row prisoner. I have also said that in my opinion there should be no doubt as to who was the perpetrator in the crime before a death sentence should be given. The only real issue that I have in this case is that there were three people who participated in the crime and yet only one was sentenced to death, or even life for that matter. And yet, the one who would eventually be executed was the one who broke the case for detectives and readily confessed.
On January 16, 1991 Gerald Bivins, Ronald Chambers and Scott Weyls began a crime spree. Their first stop was at store in Lafayette Indiana where they shoplifted blue jeans, holding the clerk at gunpoint. From there they headed about thirty minutes south to Lebanon Indiana where they broke into a motel room, robbed a man, left him tied up in the tub and stole his vehicle. As they headed their way back up north they stopped at a rest stop area where thirty-nine year old William Radcliffe was filling jugs with water to help his overheating engine. The three men forced Radcliffe into the restroom where they stolen his wallet. It was here that Radcliffe was shot and killed while the three men took off once again.
Four days later Gerald Bivins was arrested in Lafayette on an unrelated forgery charge out of Carroll County Indiana, the county just north of Lafayette. While in custody Bivins readily confessed to the crime spree committed with Chambers and Weyls.
By all accounts Bivins was convicted of the crimes in March of 1991, less than two months after the crime and quickly sentenced to death. The prosecution apparently gave two motives to why Bivins had killed Radcliffe. The first was that Radcliffe, who had recently resigned as the minister at a rural Brookston Indiana church, had also ran a rehab program that Bivins had been a part of and Bivins knew that he had recognized him. The second motive given was said to be a quote from Bivins in which he stated Radcliffe was killed because he “wanted to know what it felt like to kill.” I suppose both could be true but if in fact Radcliffe did know Bivins that seems more likely a motive than the latter in my opinion. It is not as if there have not been people who simply murdered, to murder, and to know what it felt like but the fact that Radcliffe could identify Bivins seems the more likely motive. It is unclear if Chambers or Weyls testified against him.
It appears that both Chambers and Weyls would plead guilty for their roles in the crime spree, although neither pleaded guilty to murder or seemingly anything to do with the circumstances surrounding Radcliffe's death. Chambers would receive a twenty year sentence for armed robbery. Weyls would also get twenty years for the armed robbery, along with another twenty year sentence for simple robbery. He would also receive three three year sentences on theft charges.
One of the things that I always do when I research a case is go to the Department of Corrections in the state in which the crime occurred and look up the perpetrator(s). This case was obviously no different. The one thing I like about the Indiana website is that it shows a good criminal history and more details than a lot of other states. I placed all three of the perpetrators in this case into their search engine. One of the things that the site tells me is the inmates date of birth. If I have not already gotten an idea as to the age of the perpetrator I can find it here. In a lot of cases this information is not all that vital. Of course there are the cases of the extremely young or the ones of a much older age that have little to no prior criminal history. The reason that I found the age of the perpetrators in this case interesting is that all were in their thirties at the time of the crimes they committed. This was something that I did not really expect, and no, I am unsure as to why. I suppose in my head I pictured the perpetrators to all be in their early twenties. I was wrong. I also used another site that I have used for private use but never for a blog called Doxpop. They list criminal and civil cases against defendants and information.
Before using Doxpop it seemed as if Scott Weyls had learned his lesson from his time in prison. He was released in 2002 according to the Department of Corrections website. Prior to the incidents in 1991 Weyls only had two previous charges. One was for the possession of marijuana and the other was driving while suspended. He had received a year each in March of 1990. I am unsure when he was released from prison for that (keep in mind that the Department of Corrections only shows time in Indiana prisons, not county jails) because the site said he was due for release in February of 1991 but obviously he was no longer an inmate considering this crime took place in January of 1991. Then I remembered the Doxpop site and went and threw his name in there. In 2003 he was once again charged with possession of marijuana and given a thirty day, county jail sentence. In 2005 he pleaded guilty to reckless driving. In 2008 he pleaded guilty to driving while suspended . Then in 2012 he was caught again driving while suspended as well as charged with false informing and assisting a criminal. It seems that any time given was all spent either in a county jail (which generally means less than a year) or he was given probation.
As far as Ronald Chambers goes he had no criminal history prior to the incidents in 1991, at least none that had been caught. For his armed robbery plea that he took in this case and received twenty years he was scheduled for release in 2000. However, unless he was released early and quickly reoffended, it appears that while still in jail in 1997 he received another conviction for robbery and received a twenty-four year sentence. He was apparently released in 2001 anyway but in both 2005 and 2006 he had separate convictions for charges of criminal recklessness and received a year and a half for the first and a year for the second. With the second charge in 2006 he was also charged with auto theft and received a five year sentence. He was released in May of 2010.
My point in reporting the criminal background, as well as subsequent crimes of Weyls and Chambers was to show that neither of them were even technically charged in the murder of William Radcliffe and seemingly did not learn a hard lesson for the time they did spend.
As far as Bivins goes I was more confused by his background. Bivins was raised in the area of Evansville Indiana, on the southern border and in 1981 he was convicted of armed robbery and received a thirteen year sentence. The website indicated that he was not scheduled for release until October of 1993 but he was obviously out before January of 1991 and committing more crimes in an area much further north than his home area. I am unclear as to when his release occurred considering he was initially arrested in January of 1991 on forgery charges and it was said that he had attended a rehabilitation group that Radcliffe had ran.
As I noted earlier, Bivins was convicted, or at least that is how it reads, in March of 1991 less than two months after the murder but I am a bit confused with this also. First off, it seems way too short of a time to allow a defense an adequate time to prepare for a trial, let alone a death penalty trial. Secondly, while the crime occurred on January 16th and he was arrested on unrelated charges on the 20th. By the following day he had already confessed to the murder and was taken from the Carroll County jail where he would show authorities where things had been disposed on the 16th. This indicates as if he pleaded guilty, which of course is entirely possible. However, it is only on the rare occasion that someone accepts a plea deal that still includes the option for the death penalty.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bivins was housed in Michigan City Indiana where state executions take place. In all death penalty cases there is an automatic appeal through the state. It seems that this was the only appeal that Bivins had and he waive all subsequent appeals. Prior to his execution his mother was allowed to go to the prison and prepare his last meal. This was the first time this was allowed in the state and I am unsure that it has occurred since that time. It appears that while the prison was preparing for his execution on March 14, 2001 his mother, after preparing his last meal, went to her hotel and attempted to commit suicide. She was apparently saved.
I would like to know more about this case and whether he simply wanted the death penalty and held on to that position until the end. It is not uncommon for a defendant to ask for the death penalty. It is done fairly often, although, a majority of those defendants then seem to continually fight the sentence through appeals later. Obviously that was not the case here. Considering that I found nothing on a trial, or anything beyond the automatic appeal, I found nothing that discussed his mental status, which in and of itself is a bit odd. In cases in which a defendant asks for the death penalty it is often argued by the defense that the defendant is not of sound mind to make that decision.
In the end Bivins became the 78th person executed in Indiana since 1900 and the 8th since 1977.